Before making the move to the Southern Conference, the Mercer Bears wreaked havoc on their opponents in the Atlantic Sun. Over the past few years, they have been one of the top mid-major programs, and are always a threat to take home their conference title.
On Wednesday afternoon, they took on an opponent that they are very familiar with from their days in the Atlantic Sun. They paid a visit to Kennesaw, Georgia to face off against the Kennesaw State Owls. The season hasn’t gone as planned for the Owls to date, but a win over the Bears would do them wonders as they look to close out 2015 on a high note.
Mercer took the lead early in the first half, and led for the remainder of the game. Kennesaw State made a late push at the lead, coming to within a single point, but the Mercer Bears came away with the 76-73 win over the Owls.
The teams would go shot-for-shot to open the contest, with Kennesaw State taking an early 9-7 lead on a jumper from Jordan Jones. Following the jumper from Jones, the Bears would go on a mini 9-0 run before the first media timeout to take a 16-9 lead. Demetre Rivers scored five of the nine points in the run for the Bears.
Little did we know at the time, but Kennesaw State wouldn’t lead for the rest of the game.
As the first half wore on, it seemed that Mercer would get two baskets for every one that the Owls could muster up on offense. A dunk from Stephon Delks at the 5:51 mark of the first half gave Mercer a 13-point lead, it’s biggest advantage of the first half.
Before the break, the Owls would cut the deficit to 10, giving them a shot in the second half. But, the Bears carried all the momentum into the break with their 41-31 lead.
In the second half, Mercer would build on their lead, stretching it to 14 points at the 10:07 mark on a layup from Desmond Ringer. It looked as though the Bears were going to run away with the contest, but the Owls weren’t going to go quietly.
With 4:59 to go, Kendrick Ray would connect on a jumper to bring the Owls to within 4 points, at 68-64.
They weren’t done, either.
Ray went to the free throw line with just 36 seconds on the clock and the Owls down 74-72. With the game in his hands, he made one of two free throw attempts, and Mercer went down the floor on their next possession and got a layup from Jestin Lewis to put the game to rest.
Yonel Brown had a shot to tie the game just before the buzzer, but his three point attempt was off the mark and the Owls fell just short.
Despite a valiant second half comeback, the Kennesaw State Owls fell just short against the Mercer Bears, falling 76-73.
Forward Stephon Jelks put the Bears on his back on Wednesday afternoon, recording a double-double in Mercer’s win. Jelks recorded a team-high 21 points and 12 rebounds in the victory, going 7-of-12 from the floor on the day.
Jestin Lewis added 13 points in the win, while Phillip Leonard added 8 points and 7 rebounds.
Kennesaw State used a rotation of just 7 players on the afternoon, and relied heavily on their star-studded back court to lead the way. Kendrick Ray scored a game-high 30 points to go along with 7 rebounds and 3 steals in the loss.
Not to be outdone, Yonel Brown recorded 17 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists.
The Mercer Bears (10-3) enter 2016 riding high after notching their second win in their past three games. They have the look of a top contender in the Southern Conference this season. The Bears open the New Year, and conference play, on January 2nd when they welcome the Samford Bulldogs to Macon, GA.
The loss marked the fourth-straight defeat for the Kennesaw State Owls (3-12), and they enter 2016 searching for answers on both ends of the floor. The play of Ray and Brown can only get them so far, and they will need others to step up come conference play. The Owls close out non-conference play with a home date against the Reinhardt Eagles on January 4th.